A fourth generation farmer by profession he’s one of the state’s longest tenured high school sports officials.
“It’s a good life. I love it,” Galen Johnson assured.
In his 13th year serving as mayor, Johnson lives just inside the Dwight city limits.
It’s nearby the Morris County farmland of which portions were acquired by his great grandfather Carl Johnson in 1918.
“I always knew I wanted to be a farmer,” Johnson said. “Then I got the urge to officiate sports while I was still in high school.”
Johnson officiates football, basketball and volleyball in a 100-mile radius of home.
“Sometimes I have to leave the field early to get to a game. Then finish up the farm work when I return home,” he admitted.
Sure not much spare time though serving as official at more than 70 sporting games a year. “I’ve been doing it 46 years and wouldn’t have wanted anything different,” Johnson said.
While there are some with longer service, there aren’t many who’ve officiated nearly 3,000 games in a lifetime. “I’m shooting for 50 years, that’s just four years more and then longer if my body holds up,” Johnson assured.
Inspiration to become a sports official came after a high school friend took up a classmate’s dare to clean a referee’s glasses. “I’ll always remember that night. Just something about it made me want to officiate sporting events,” Johnson said.
Only competing in cross country during school, Johnson served as manager for the basketball team.
Opportunity to officiate came while attending Kansas State University. “I lived in a fraternity and started officiating intramural football, basketball and volleyball,” he remembered fondly.
“I did that for three years, $1.25 an hour. It doesn’t sound like much, but $22 at the end of the month looked good to a college kid.”
Originally majoring in biology, Johnson found chemistry to be a challenge. “I knew I was going to farm, so I switched to animal science, graduated and came back home,” Johnson said.
“My dad Wendell was farming and I joined the operation,” he noted.
Sideline profession soon became officiating junior varsity basketball games. “It paid $10 a game plus $10 mileage. In my 20s then, I thought it was a great life,” Johnson smiled.
Johnson and his wife Jean have three children.
Gretchen and Marta live with their families in the Kansas City area, and Albert’s family lives at Marion.
“They each have two children, so we have six grandkids,” Johnson said. “Jean has now retired after teaching school 43 years.”
Demand for Johnson’s service as a sports official expanded over the years.
“I started out doing junior high and junior varsity football and basketball, then varsity games,” he said. “In 2004, I began officiating volleyball too. It’s the easiest sport because you don’t have to run so much.”
Up and down the field and court takes a toll on a farmer’s body. “I had to have both knees replaced one year and missed officiating games,” Johnson related. “But I came back the next year and have been going good.
“Well, that is until a cow upended me last fall. I’ve had to miss the basketball schedule this past winter,” he continued. “I’ll be ready to go when the football season starts again.”
Working with the other sports officials is a highlight for Johnson. “I’ve officiated with several of the same crews for a number of years. It’s like a fraternity,” he said.
“We don’t do many big city school games,” Johnson qualified. “They don’t have the support like the smaller schools where the entire community comes out to watch.”
Highlight for Johnson was when both of his daughters became sports officials. “We had the opportunity to work together for high school games while they were both students at Kansas State University. Marta continues to officiate volleyball with me,” he said.
Reimbursement has come a long way since those college officiating days. “While sometimes I’m gone five days a week in the fall, it helps when farming isn’t paying too well,” Johnson insisted.
Since his parents’ passing, the farm house sits vacant, but Johnson is there every day caring for operations. “I have a cow herd, up to 95 at a peak, but now 25 are just right,” he said. “I usually sell the calves as yearlings.”
After several years of paying for custom farming, Johnson now has cash renters looking after the tilled acres. “I’ve always liked to put up hay; alfalfa, brome and prairie hay,” he commented. “I average eight to 10 hay customers now, but there were up to 25 at one time.”
Active in community leadership, Johnson served on the Dwight City Council 17 years before being elected as mayor. “Rural communities have a hard time surviving nowadays, and I want to do my small part,” he noted.
Still keeping contact with college friends, Johnson said, “My fraternity brothers come opening weekend to hunt quail. We shoot blue rock, and go hunting but there aren’t that many birds anymore.”
Always enjoying throwing the Frisbee while a student, disc golf became Johnson’s adulthood sport. “I like to play disc golf although I just do it here at home these days,” Johnson said. He was a Sunflower State Games champion one year.
Retirement is not on the agenda for Dwight Mayor Galen Johnson. He’s too busy haying, officiating high school sports competitions, and serving the Dwight community.